homemade box trap

How To Build A Live Animal Trap (An Easy Illustrated Guide)

In Outdoors by M.D. Creekmore

Reading Time: 5 minutes

homemade box trapNo doubt many of you have read about various improvised and homemade traps in one of the many outdoor survival books and thought, Wow, what a great idea—I could do that. Indeed, many of the ideas and diagrams shown are ingenious, and a few of them actually work to trap game—with practice.

After seeing all these trap designs in these books, you might think you need to learn how to make them all yourself, or that these homemade traps are somehow more proficient than commercially manufactured traps at putting food on the table or keeping pests out of your garden. You don’t, and they’re not.

The main (and possibly only) advantage homemade traps have over most of their store-bought counterparts is that they can be built from scrounged materials. That is a huge advantage and the reason you should learn how to make several different types of do-it-yourself traps.

But don’t go overboard here or discount a factory-made trap as somehow inferior for survival because you did not carve it out of three twigs that are held together by a strand of your own hair. Generally, factory-made traps are superior to most homemade designs, and you should take full advantage of their use.

When you are planning for survival, the last thing you want to do is limit yourself in any way. The best course of action is to blend primitive techniques and tools with modern advancements, therefore increasing your chances of survival.


small game trapping

For best results when trapping small game, I recommend that you invest in a good supply (at least 10 traps, with 20 or more being ideal) of #110 Conibear body traps. They are easy to use for most people and are very effective for filling the stew pot.

Plus, they are quick-kill traps and are therefore more humane. With that said, the best homemade trap for the average survivor is the wooden box or cage trap, as they are commonly called. I am sure most of you have seen or heard about the live traps made by Havahart (www.havahart.com). These traps are lightweight (compared to the homemade version illustrated here) and work great, but they’re expensive, running upwards of $30 for the smallest trap.

Sizes for larger animals, such as raccoon, can cost $100 or more depending on the retailer. I didn’t have the money to purchase several of these traps, and it didn’t make good economic sense to do so anyway since I could make as many as I need for little or nothing. Box traps are cheap and easy to build using plywood or scrap lumber that can easily be found while scavenging through construction site Dumpsters or around abandoned structures or other locations in the country.

These traps are easy on the critters trapped inside, unlike other traps that rely on killing or maiming to secure the animal. An added plus is that game caught in a box trap is kept safe from hungry predators until the trapper returns to check the trap.

When I was growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, just about every boy knew how to build a homemade box trap out of scrap wood. Now kids are more interested in watching TV or playing video games than learning such useful skills.

This is sad because one day this type of skill could make the difference between going to bed hungry or on a full stomach. To construct this trap, begin by putting together a box using outdoor plywood, lumber, or other suitable material.

Each end is left open and should be approximately 6 or 12 inches square, depending on the intended game. The top piece should be 2 or 3 inches shorter on one end— or if you intend to build a trap with double doors, make the top piece 2 or 3 inches shorter at both ends—which will allow room for the sliding door(s).

homemade live animal trap

For larger animals, such as raccoon, opossum, and woodchuck, the box should be at least 36 inches long and have at least a 12-inch doorway. For smaller game, such as squirrels, rabbits, muskrat, and mink, a 24-inch box with a 6-inch opening works well. You have to construct a slideway for the doors to fall through and lock-in.

You can make the trigger system out of branches or other improvised materials. Explaining here in writing how the pieces go together is difficult, but it should all be clear when you look at the photos.

Use the heaviest wood you can find for the doors, as the weight will cause them to close faster and go all the way down and lock into place when the trigger is tripped.

trap trigger

close up of trigger

Close-up view of key trigger points that hold the door in the open position until dislodged by an animal, at which time they collapse, dropping the door and trapping the animal inside.

How To Use

Most traps of this type are set with bait. If you are baiting for raccoon, use peanut butter or fish guts; for opossums, use cut-up apples, peanut butter, or just about anything with a strong odor. Cats like fish guts; squirrels like acorns and corn; pheasants and quail like wheat or crushed dried corn.

When in doubt, use a spoonful of peanut butter, as most animals seem to be attracted to it. Many of us who keep chickens know how frustrating it is to watch our prized hens disappear one at a time to a seemingly invisible predator.

Catching the phantom culprit can be a bewildering problem since in many cases we don’t know exactly what we are trying to catch or when it will make its next foray into the henhouse. I keep two of these traps set and against the outside walls of my henhouse.

I conceal the traps with hay to look like a naturally occurring run or passage and usually catch several would-be chicken thieves (mostly raccoons) each month. They seem to just meander into the traps while searching for a way inside the coop. A dandy rabbit-producing method is to set out boxes in known rabbit country, with brush piled on top of the trap to make it look like a natural hiding place.

Make sure that the brush you use doesn’t interfere with the trigger assembly or keep the door from closing all the way. I like to funnel the rabbits into the trap by placing “wings” made from scrap lumber in a V pattern that lead from the entrance of the traps.

This seems to guide the animals naturally into the traps. These winged traps do not even have to be baited; the rabbits just wander into them while looking for a place to hide. Be patient: don’t expect to catch anything in the first couple of weeks.

The rabbits need to become accustomed to seeing the traps before they will start to come in. If you can find a copy, I suggest you buy Being Kind to Animal Pests: A No-Nonsense Guide to Humane Animal Control with Cage Traps by Steve Meyer (the book is out of print, but

M.D. Creekmore

Owner / Editor at MDCreekmore.com
Hello, I’m M.D. Creekmore. I’ve been interested in self-reliance topics for over 25 years. I’m the author of four books that you can find at Amazon.com as well as Barnes and Noble. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about prepping, homesteading, and self-reliance topics through first-hand experience and now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
M.D. Creekmore